2013 marks 100 years since stainless steel first graced dining tables up and down the country, so we asked Corin Mellor, Creative Director of David Mellor Design, about the company that his father founded in 1954 and his own contribution to a very British family business.
How did your father, David Mellor, first start working with metal?
There’s both a historic and family connection. Firstly David Mellor grew up in Sheffield, a town with a long history of steel manufacturing, and this must have had an influence; his own father worked in metal with the Sheffield Twist-Drill company and they made things together from an early age. He was also lucky in that at the age of 13 he got to go to Sheffield Junior Art Department, an institution set up to train working class kids in art and metalwork. From here, he went to the RCA in London in 1950 to study silversmithing, where he adjusted easily to life in the capital. It was here that he created his first range, ‘Pride’ cutlery.
How did your father, David Mellor, go on to design street furniture from cutlery?
I suppose David Mellor was an entrepreneur, but not one driven by money; he was instead driven by designing things and getting them made. It was during his time at the RCA that he made a trip to Rome, where he was so impressed by the quality of the street furniture that he came up with some designs for lampposts for the UK. After finishing at the RCA, he took his drawings to a number of firms, literally just knocking on their doors. He found a firm in Derby, Abacus, who agreed to manufacture them. They were successful and so they commissioned many other things, from bus stops to bollards.
Was there any one piece that your father, David Mellor, was most pleased with?
I don’t think he had favourites. He tended to design something and then move on. He never kept anything; I really don’t think he looked back much.
What is the focus of the David Mellor brand today?
David Mellor Design focusses on two areas: Firstly, we’ve tried to move into areas other than steel, where we design but have other people manufacture for us. There have been 50-60 other David Mellor products designed in the last five years. We’ve developed the mail-order side of the business, which is now larger than any of our shops, partly due to an increase in demand for the brand in the US. Secondly, we’ve been doing a wide range of special commissions: we’ve just designed a bridge for Sheffield Hallam University and we’re doing a lot of silverwork for clients in the Middle East. These types of projects allow us to grow, but without over-stretching our small team.
Where are David Mellor products available?
David Mellor Design used to sell to about 40 retailers in the UK but now we just supply our two David Mellor shops at Sloane Square in London and the factory here in Derbyshire, plus a selection of outlets that we have a close connection with, like the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Conran Shop. We have to be realistic about what we can achieve. We wouldn’t open 20 David Mellor shops because we couldn’t keep that level of quality control.
Can you tell us a bit about the David Mellor Visitor Centre and Design Museum?
We’ve always had a shop at the David Mellor factory, but eight years ago I went to Fiskars, the Finnish metal manufacturer, and saw their visitor centre. I thought it was amazing and it inspired us to develop our shop into what it is now. We have divided it into three areas: products that we design and make, products that we design but are manufactured elsewhere, and products that we like – objects from English potters and wood-turners to lovely pieces of design from Italy. We asked Michael Hopkins, the architect who developed the original Round Building factory in 1989, to create our Design Museum, which shows the entire David Mellor collection. We also have factory tours at the weekend and later this year we’re planning to open a street furniture section outside. The idea is that people will come and want to spend a bit of time here.
What is your own favourite piece of mid century design?
I have a 1966 Porsche, the same vintage as me, which I picked up years ago in California. It’s in a fantastic shade of bright green. I think it’s a lovely piece of design, which has evolved and endured through many generations.
Set in the wonderful Michael Hopkins-designed ‘The Round Building’, which has won numerous awards for its design, the David Mellor factory now employs around 40 people and is based in Hathersage, just outside Sheffield.
Useful links and information
To read more about David Mellor and the British stainless steel revolution in the 1960s, check out MidCentury issue 05